Other than some cold weather the last week of January, conditions across much of the Upper Southeast this winter have been good to ideal for development of stripe rust in wheat. Last year the disease caused sporadic, but severe damage to wheat in some areas of North Carolina, Weisz says.

It can be particularly dangerous because it doesn’t occur every year, in fact it doesn’t occur in most years in the Upper Southeast, and growers are not always diligent in looking for the disease.

Unlike leaf rust, stripe rust is bright yellow, the pustules line up in stripes along the leaves, and the fungus prefers cool to mild temperatures.

Stripe rust spores are blown into the U.S. from Central America and infections begin in the gulf states.

If winters are mild and cool, these infections can get started early, and stripe rust spores from the Gulf state infections then blow into Georgia. Usually, by the time spores can blow north from Georgia into North Carolina, weather has turned hot and the newly arrived stripe rust spores die. This year stripe rust infections have occurred early in the Gulf states and weather has been mild and favorable for the fungus.

“If stripe rust does occur again this year, it will begin showing up in fields from February until late April. ‘If a grower sees a yellow area in a wheat field, he should scout the field and determine whether he has stripe rust or some other disease, or nutritional problem,” Weisz says.

Stripe rust will look a lot like leaf rust, but the disease pustules will be yellow and will line up in distinctive row patterns,” he notes. 

If the grower determines he has stripe rust, he should spray a triazole containing fungicide as soon as possible, the North Carolina State specialist stresses.

Wheat stripe rust often causes severe grain yield and quality loss. Cool, mild, and moist, springtime weather across the Southeast last year created a good environment for the disease to spread.

If these conditions occur again this winter and spring, growers should take special care to protect their crops, because this particular disease can cause a great deal of damage in short amount of time, Weisz adds.

This year there will likely be about 250,000 more acres of wheat than last year. Knowing what varieties were planted and watching disease, weed and insect pressure will go a long way toward providing a top yielding and quality crop, in addition to being one of the biggest in terms of acreage in recent years.


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